Yanking books off library shelves doesn’t really ‘protect children’

Arkansas kids deserve better than being pawns in the supermajority’s culture war

May 17, 2023 3:00 pm

Cars pass a billboard on Interstate 30 in Benton that warns of “X-rated library books” in Saline County libraries. (Tess Vrbin/Arkansas Advocate.

The puritanical extremists who’ve taken over the Saline County Republican Party aren’t satisfied with getting the county governing body to terrorize their local library

They’ve now launched an offensive public offensive to “Stop X-Rated books at the Saline County Library” via a billboard next to the Walmart in Benton. The billboard directs readers to a website that features a banner containing the cover images from dozens of books with LGBTQ+ themes or about human sexuality.

Most of these allegedly “X-rated” books are not aimed at children but at teen or young adult readers (those between 12 and 20) — an age group (if my grandkids are any indication) seeking answers to questions they don’t want to ask their parents or other adults, either because they’re embarrassed or fearful of the blowback they’d get. 

And given the ferocity of the attack these book-banners have directed at the director of the Saline County Library, those kids have every right to be fearful.

The website promoted by the highway-side billboard encourages “Christians, conservatives, and moral citizens of Saline County” to contact their county officials and the library board and ask that they “immediately replace Director (Patty) Hector with someone who shares the values of the majority of Saline County residents and will direct the library staff to uphold the wishes of the elected quorum court.”

As Tess Vrbin reported in the Advocate on Tuesday, “Saline County is currently the testing ground for a new state law set to take effect later this year. Act 372 of 2023 will allow people to challenge library materials they consider ‘obscene’ and create potential criminal liability for librarians who disseminate such materials to minors. Local elected officials will have the final say over whether a challenged book can stay on publicly available library shelves or must be moved to an area that minors cannot access, the law states.”

The extremists are upset, you see, that Hector had the gall to tell the Arkansas Advocate earlier this month that she’d remove a book or move it to another location only when a court tells her to.

I have to address at this point that the anti-library website does mention a couple of picture books obviously intended for the pre-K or child reader that feature gay characters, which the website’s authors consider “an inappropriate subject for preschool, elementary, or any age kid.”

Give me a break! Apparently, these folks never encountered an inquisitive child who wants to know more about the world they live in. These kinds of books speak to preschoolers and young children at a level they can understand. Plus, no one is forcing anyone’s child to read these books. After all, it’s all about parental control, isn’t it?

Seriously, these jokers won’t be happy until the only books available in the PUBLIC library are the Bible (Old Testament preferred) and junk like the “Left Behind” series and other piteously pious treacle. Jesus would weep.

But of course all this wailing and gnashing of teeth is of a piece with what occurred in the recently concluded Arkansas legislative session and what’s happening in other states.

Arkansas politicians and legislative committee witnesses uttered the phrases “protect the children” and “protect children” so often this spring, the words became as much of a  monotonous cliché as “bold vision.” Protect the children from books? From information? From independent and critical thinking?

GOP lawmakers and their counterparts at the local government and school board levels seem to believe that being in a supermajority entitles them to trample constitutional rights and dismantle the wall between church and state rather than admit their legislative aims are misguided attempts at controlling things they can’t control.

Too many Republicans are expert at using code words to rouse fear and enmity to drive their cultural-political agenda. And the rest of us be damned.


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Sonny Albarado
Sonny Albarado

In his 50-year career, Sonny Albarado has been an investigations editor, a business editor, a city editor, an environmental reporter and a government reporter at newspapers in Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana. He retired from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2020 after serving as projects editor for 12 ½ years and returned to professional journalism in 2022 to lead the Arkansas Advocate. He is a former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists and a current member of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.